Looking after the details of Switzerland in miniature since 1959
Swissminiatur is Switzerland’s largest open-air miniature museum. Located in Melide, on the shores of Lake Lugano, the park is surrounded by majestic mountains including Monte Generoso, San Salvatore and also San Giorgio, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Relax and unwind in a tranquil natural setting.
We are home to 129 models of Switzerland’s most famous buildings, monuments and means of transport in the unusual 1:25 scale. The miniatures on display include meticulously faithful reproductions of Rapperswil Castle, Chillon Castle and the Castles of Bellinzona, the Parliament Building in Bern and the Piazza Grande in Locarno.
Immerse yourself in the world of Swiss railway history in miniature: a 3,560 m miniature railway network winds its way around the park, with eighteen trains running on the tracks. Admire the funicular railways and cableways that travel up and down the mountains, the boats that plough through the lakes and the cars speeding along the motorway. See the planes getting ready to take off from Zurich-Kloten airport!
Traditional methods and innovative processes have been combined to create some real masterpieces in miniature. Appreciate the painstaking handiwork, which stays true to the original and is carried out with great passion.
Swissminiatur park opened in 1959 and visits here are recalled with great fondness by young and old alike.
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Pierre Vuigner: he is just how you’d imagine a pioneer to be: someone who has an idea – his own idea– of building an attraction covering the whole of Switzerland. A real worker, a Jack of all Trades, whose vocabulary did not include Fridays and Sundays, holidays or simply lazing around. Always on the run, towards success.
He demanded a lot from his associates. But he also gave them a lot. When insurmountable disagreements occurred, he would always find all-round solutions. This identity may apply to various Swiss pioneers, but here we are referring to Pierre Vuigner who was born in Grimisuat in the canton of Valais and who 52 years ago had an idea that simply would not then let him rest. Based on the example of the Dutch park Madurodam, he wanted to create the same thing in Switzerland.
Switzerland in miniature!
Aged 32, Pierre Vuigner ran a grocery shop in Grimisuat in Canton Valais where he was also the municipal clerk. He studied Latin in the gymnasium and is definitely an anthletic person. His life seemed to be running smoothly, that was until the day the idea gripped him. This idea would not leave him both day and night. In order to bring the idea to life, he would first need land in an attractive position. His tour of Switzerland started in Küsnacht moved on to Pratteln via Thun and ended by taking him to Melide in Ticino a picturesque village that, nestled between mountains and the lake dam was waiting to be awoken from sleep.
For Pierre Vuigner’s idea, Melide was a real stroke of luck. The mayor, named Gallino, was so taken by the idea that he managed to overcome all the bureaucratic obstacles in a record time. He was helped here with the fact that there were rumours that the unused land would be developed into a camp site, which had been a sore point with the village community. The deal between the Melide community and Pierre Vuigner gave him a 30-year lease on the site. The contract could then be extended by both parties, initially for 45 years, then for 60 and finally for 86 years. This would allow Swissminiatur to stay at its current location until 2042.
Pierre Vuigner, who meanwhile became the father to two sons, Dominique and Jean-Luc, now had the land but not the initial capital. But above all he needed the models. He sold his shop in Grimisuat as well as family property and moved to Melide with the proceeds. Still obsessed with his idea, he started working with some like-minded people. The first models, built to a scale of 1:25 were completed. A miniature train was to take visitors around the still desolate Swissminiatur. There was not a lot of time as capital was melting like snow in the spring sunshine. Pioneer Pierre and his employees very quickly became dependent on income.
The 6thJune 1959 was set as the opening date. But just a few days before, the park was not a finished product. Pierre Vuigner looks back, grinning: The ‘Matterhorn’ was still ‘under construction’, instead of being bright green, part of the lawn was a dreary mixture of brown and yellow. But we were all eternal optimists. After days and nights of overtime, the park was finally finished!
The new attraction on the lake of Lugano is the centre of attention. After four months Pierre Vuigner sums it up: a real gold mine.
Then came the boom years of the golden 70s. At weekends and on public holidays, Italians would flood into Ticino. The reason for the invasion of the spend-happy southern neighbours is enlightening: 1000 Lire would get Italians seven Swiss Francs. 65% of all Swissminiatur visitors would cross the border at Chiasso and stock up on Swiss chocolate, cigarettes, storm the restaurants and department stores and accept the hour-long queues at the Swissminiatur tills.
At this time, Pierre Vuigner was investing considerable amounts in the park each year – new models, new attractions. As an experienced PR professional, he also knew to include stars and starlets, celebrities and popular faces in his advertisements. Caterina Valente, Lys Assia, Vico Torriani, Peter Kraus, Marisa Salina, Nicola de Bari, Anita Traversi, Febo Conti, Hermann Geiger, Marina Doria all posed for Swissminiatur, TV advertisements were recorded, folk festivals held. Television services and popular celebrations are made. In Melide I had found my American remembers Pierre Vuigner.
But the era of the golden fat 70s was followed by crisis years. The Italian Lira suffered a crash where the Italians then only got 70 centimes for 1000 Lire. Switzerland, which used to be a shopping paradise became too expensive for them. Shopping tourism now developed in the opposite direction. Now each weekend thousands of bargain hunters from Ticino crossed the border into the lower priced Italy.
Pierre Vuigner handed over the reins to his two sons Dominique and Jean-Luc in the Spring of 1986, but still remains on hand at all times to offer advice and support. Now aged 83, he puts the success story of Swissminiatur down to the following: “mon Dieu, j’ai plus de chance que d’intelligence. (My God, I have more guts than brains).
It was with humility, patience, daringness and pioneering spirit that Pierre Vuigner created something in Melide that has become somewhat of a Swiss institution over the last 60 years: Visiting and experiencing Switzerland in an hour…
The workshop of Switzerland in miniature
Traditional methods and innovative processes come together to create real miniature masterpieces in the unusual 1:25 scale. See models of trains, funicular railways, boats and cableways in a tranquil natural setting. Appreciate the painstaking handiwork, which stays true to the original and is carried out with great passion.
The practical experience developed by our workers over the years is an invaluable treasure and their skills have been handed down for decades. Traditional processes and innovation methods have been combined to create some real masterpieces in miniature.
Our thirty-strong team, made up of decorators, artisans, gardeners, cooks, guides and reception staff, work hard on a daily basis to make your visit to Swissminiatur truly unique.
Our workshops are open to the public on special days at certain times of year. Don’t miss the next guided tour!
Grottino with grill and ice cream
Our new Swissminiatur Grottino offers a wide choice of sandwiches and different types of meat directly from the grill, for a tasty lunch.
Ice creams and cold drinks complete the offer.
As you relax for a few moments after your meal, your little ones can have fun in the nearby play area.
A fantastic selection of typically Swiss souvenirs and products. You’ll be spoilt for choice.
Whether you’re looking for a little something to take home or a small gift for your friends and acquaintances, the Swissminiatur shop has just what you’re looking for! We sell some wonderful cuddly Rudy mascots, T-shirts and caps!
We also stock gift items, such as keyrings, magnets, mugs, badges and stuffed toys, as well as many other articles you would struggle to find elsewhere.
Tasty titbits, sweets and confectionary, lollipops, traditional biscuits and mouth-watering Swiss chocolate: a real assortment of sweet treats of every kind. And on hot summer days you certainly shouldn’t miss out on a delicious ice cream or refreshing drink.